Recipes » Dessert Recipes » Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

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4.8 from 89 votes
Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a classic, vintage recipe. A cross between a cookie and cake, not too sweet, and utterly delicious.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a classic, vintage recipe. It’s a bit of a cross between a cookie and cake, not too sweet, and utterly delicious. Tea cakes are the perfect ending to any meal or a great mid-afternoon snack with coffee, tea, or milk.

Everything that I know of childhood comes from one tiny, rural town in Southwest Georgia. When I think back on it now, it seems almost like a fairytale. It was a place where children could roam around the neighborhood playing all day or ride their bikes “uptown” without a second thought.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

There were very few worries there. People never locked their car doors and rarely locked their homes. It really was like growing up in the fictitious town of Mayberry. Or maybe I’m just remembering it through a child’s eye.

I can’t say why, but there are simply certain smells and tastes that bring childhood back vividly to mind. I seem to have so many memories that are inextricably associated with certain old southern comfort food recipes.

These old fashioned Southern Tea Cakes are one of those recipes. Anyone near my age who grew up close to where I did knows exactly what a tea cake is. It’s not a cake, but it’s not quite a cookie either. And it’s not overly sweet – just barely enough sugar to call it a dessert, actually.

They’re delicious with a cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk. And, if you grew up in southwest Georgia, you can take one bite of a teacake and in your mind, you’re five years old again.

I recently saw a comment questioning why anyone would make a particular recipe because it was “so 1965.” Maybe I see cooking a little differently from other people. For me, the preparation of good food is a way of showing love. And making those old recipes honors our ancestors.

Cooking is not always just a way to get food on the table so you can get on with something else. It’s about fellowship, too. A time to be together and enjoy each other’s company. And if you have an old family recipe like my Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes to enjoy, all the better.

What are Tea Cakes?

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes are a slightly sweet cookie enjoyed throughout the southeast. Many southern families pass heirloom recipes for tea cakes from one generation to the next.

Their texture is soft and tender in the center with just a hint of a crispy exterior. The short list of ingredients results in a simple flavor profile of butter, sugar, and vanilla. I’ve known older cooks who used them as a substitute for vanilla wafers in banana pudding and as the base for cheesecake crusts.

Old Fashioned Southern Teacakes on a white serving plate.

  • Cookies that taste like cake
  • Perfect texture
  • Not too sweet
  • Simple to make
  • Easily accessible ingredients

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Buttermilk (here’s how to make a substitute if you don’t have it on hand)
  • Flour (plain, all-purpose)
  • Baking soda
  • Vanilla

There’s nothing at all fancy in this recipe because it originated in a time and place when people made do with the little they had on hand. Very smart and frugal folks!

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

How to Make Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

Let’s Go Step-by-Step

I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.

Mix the Dough

Photo collage showing the six steps of mixing the dough.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter until soft and pale yellow in color. Gradually add the sugar to the butter, beating well.

Next, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the buttermilk and beat well again.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and soda.

Turn the mixer down to the slowest speed and gradually add the flour and soda mixture into the creamed mixture.

Add in the vanilla.

Shape and Chill the Dough

Finished dough shaped into a rectangle and wrapped in plastic wrap.

Shape the dough into a round or rectangle, cover with plastic wrap, and chill several hours or overnight.

Cut Out and Bake

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.

Photo collage showing the process of rolling out and cutting the dough into rounds.

If you chill your dough overnight, remove it from the fridge about 15 minutes before rolling so that it very slightly softens.

Working with 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll the dough to a 1/4” thickness on a lightly floured surface.

Cut the dough into rounds using a large biscuit cutter or a drinking glass dipped into flour. Gather the scraps together, re-roll, and cut until all dough is used.

Place the rounds 1 inch apart on lightly greased baking sheets.

Sprinkle tops lightly with additional sugar.

Cooked tea cakes on a baking sheet.

Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and allow the tea cakes to cool for several minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

Tips for Making Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

  • When rolling out the dough, it’s important that it’s at least 1/4″ thick to give the tea cakes a “cake-y” interior texture.
  • To make rolling the dough easier, you can use either waxed paper or parchment paper. Place one piece on your countertop, sprinkle it lightly with flour. Put a portion of the dough on the paper and sprinkle its top with flour as well. Add another piece of paper to the top (making a sandwich of the paper and dough) and roll out.
  • To prevent the tea cakes from spreading while baking, make sure the dough is still quite cold as you roll and cut it. Then put the tea cakes directly into the oven to bake. Keep any extra dough covered in the refrigerator until needed.

Variations and Options

  • You can vary your tea cakes by adding lemon zest, nutmeg, or cinnamon. But I’d suggest you try the classic recipe first to judge which additional flavors you might like best.
  • Other flavorings can be added to the dough. Try half almond and half vanilla flavoring or substitute rum flavoring.
  • Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar while still warm.
  • To be really vintage and authentic, use half butter and half lard (or shortening) in your recipe. The lard will give the tea cakes an incredible texture.

FAQs

How do I store tea cakes?

Store tea cakes at room temperature in a covered container.

Any serving suggestions?

Tea cakes are great with ice cream, mixed fresh fruit, or fruit jams and preserves.

Any ideas for dressing them up a bit?

Try dipping the tea cakes halfway in melted chocolate for a real treat!

Have you tried this recipe? I’d really appreciate you giving it a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card or in the comments section.
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Recipe

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes on a white serving plate.

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes

Old Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a classic, vintage recipe. A cross between a cookie and cake, not too sweet, and utterly delicious.
4.77 from 89 votes
Print It Rate It
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 30 servings
Calories: 189kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter softened (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Additional sugar for sprinkling

Instructions

  • Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter until soft and pale yellow in color.
  • Gradually add the sugar to the butter, beating well.
  • Next, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Add the buttermilk and beat well again.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour and soda.
  • Turn the mixer down to the slowest speed and gradually add the flour and soda mixture into the creamed mixture.
  • Add in the vanilla.
  • Shape the dough into a round or rectangle, cover with plastic wrap, and chill several hours or overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets.
  • If you chill your dough overnight, remove it from the fridge about 15 minutes before rolling.
  • Working with 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll dough to 1/4” thickness on a lightly floured surface.
  • Cut the dough into rounds using a large biscuit cutter or a drinking glass dipped into flour. Gather the scraps together, re-roll, and cut until all dough is used.
  • Place the rounds 1 inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets.
  • Sprinkle lightly with additional sugar.
  • Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned.
  • Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and allow tea cakes to cool for several minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Notes

TIPS:
  • When rolling out the dough, it’s important that it’s at least ¼” thick to give the tea cakes a “cake-y” interior texture.
  • To make rolling the dough easier, use either waxed paper or parchment paper. Place one piece on your countertop, sprinkle it lightly with flour. Put a portion of the dough on the paper and sprinkle its top with flour as well. Add another piece of paper to the top (making a sandwich of the paper and dough) and roll out.
  • To prevent the tea cakes from spreading while baking, make sure the dough is still quite cold as you roll and cut it. Then put the tea cakes directly into the oven to bake. Keep any extra dough covered in the refrigerator until needed.
  • Store tea cakes at room temperature in a covered container.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1 | Calories: 189kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 33mg | Sodium: 104mg | Potassium: 32mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 215IU | Calcium: 9mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on March 1, 2011.

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Recipe Rating




111 Comments

    1. I’ve never tried these with self-rising flour, Diane. The reason is because the buttermilk and soda in the recipe are meant to produce a reaction that causes the cookies to rise slightly. I expect that if you make them with self-rising flour, you’d get a higher rise with a cake-like result instead of a cookie. If you decide to give it a try, I’d like to know how they turn out for you.

  1. I made these tea cakes and they are a hard as a rock not like my mother’s I think they need more milk, your measurement must be wrong plus they are hard to roll out not pliable.

    1. I’m sorry you didn’t have a great result from the recipe! I’ve literally made this recipe hundreds of times and never had hard cookies as a result. It’s almost impossible to know what went wrong without actually being in the kitchen with you, but I can only guess that perhaps you mis-measured some of the ingredients.

  2. 5 stars
    This has become a favorite at our house. I use half butter and half butter flavored Crisco and half vanilla half almond extract. They are so delicious. We love them plain but will use cookie cutters and decorate for special occasions. Thank you so much for this recipe!!!

  3. Lana, I wonder if the teacakes can be made as slice and bake? Rolled cookies are just to fiddly for me these days.

    Good memories of good food…

    Thanks,
    Sheila

    1. I’ve never done that, but it might work. Just don’t know for sure. Why don’t you give it a try and let me know how it turns out?

    2. 5 stars
      In response to MrsSW,
      This recipe is nearly exactly like my family’s recipe which is how I know it’s a good one! Our recipe actually calls for creating rolls and then slicing and baking. The result is a more cakey cookie. Both ways create tasty ones. Shaped cookie cutters are though fun for themes.

  4. Sounds pretty much like the foods I grew up with in central south Georgia. I had been looking for my grandma’s tea cake recipe and went through quite a few before I finally gave up. But, I did find where her sister shared in in her church cookbook. I am actually scared to, I am afraid it wont taste likes hers because it wont be her making them.
    Keep the wonderful recipes coming. I save atleast q or 2 from every email. Hope you are are staying safe down there. My home town just reported their first class yesterday.

  5. Like everyone else said, your post was awesome & brought back so many good memories! I was raised in Texas in a small country town right on Red River, North of Wichita Falls called Burkburnett. My Mother, Grandmother & aunts were the best cooks ever, I was introduced to the Tea Cakes @ Vacation Bible School. We’d get 1 with a glass of Kool-aid & you couldn’t wait until the next day to get another. Nobody could cook Cornbread Dressing, Fried Chicken, Pinto Beans, Fried Okra, Cornbread, Fried Potatoes with Onions in the pan & Fried Salmon Croquets like my family did ? I never even missed the meat when we didn’t have it. I very rarely fry anything anymore, but back then, seems everything was fried! Again, thanks so much for the memories & the recipe. I’m making these tomorrow for my husband & grandsons.

  6. I was searching for a good teacake and came across yours. I made them and my husband loves them. I enjoyed reading your story about your family and their cooking.

    We live in North GA about 40 miles north of Atlanta.

  7. Love your tea cake recipe! I have my Aunt Jessie’s tea cake recipe…She told me to cut them out with a “snuff can”!!!! That’s how she cut them out. Haven’t been able to find a snuff can, haaaa but my 3 inch biscuit cutter works just fine!!!! I grew up in Ochlocknee…very familiar with Colquitt! Love your site!

  8. I remember these cookies. My grandpa would dip them in his coffee
    Are they crisp, not hard though? I have an older friend who talks about them being crisp and would like to make some for him. I didn’t get my grandma’s recipe. I will try these.

  9. Thank you for this wonderful recipe! I remember teacakes from my Great Grandmother’s house in Michigan. I was seven years old! They are the perfect treat. Not to sweet–just right.

  10. The Tea cake delicious!!!-Do you have a recipe for the Old Fashioned Gingerbread that was sold at community stores back in the 50’s. (the name would vary sometime be called Bear Track, old fashioned ginger tea cake) I would love to have the recipe, about ten years ago, I was visiting east Tx (Longview) and discovered them at a neighborhood grocery store and they were made locally by Mallery Bakery, bakery has since going out of business. can you help me out with the recipe? Look forward to hearing from you.

  11. Love the way you look at food and family. So happy you are bringing some of the older recipes back. A good recipe is a good recipe. I have spent years looking for certain recipes from my childhood and young adult years. These teacakes are one – my husband grew up in Atlanta. I finally found one very similar to the teacakes his loved grandmother made . It did not call for eggs. I’m happy to try this one.

  12. Love your stories and your recipes. There are always going to be haters. Just ignore them. The old recipes are the best.

  13. Hi. I came across this looking for my mama’s (her mama’s and probably HER mama’s) teacake recipe. My mama was such a good southern cook. Her recipe calls for the ingredients but not the measurements! She knew just how the dough would look after throwing in all the ingredients. This was always so aggravating to me – I needed measurements! I’m going to give this one a try. Thanks. By the way, your description of your hometown could be the description of mine – a little town in NC. Living in different places and trying to describe the freedom and lack of fear we had growing up and likening my hometown to Mayberry, just gets ‘Your kidding!” or “Yeah, right.” responses from people. Oh, for those days to come back!

  14. I really miss my Grandma’s tea cakes. She put lemon in hers. I have tried to duplicate hers, but every one I try just doesn’t make the cut. I don’t think I will ever find it, I believe it was just her touch that made them so good. I can smell them now.

  15. Lana, I don’t remember reading this. Thank you for the wonderful compliments on my cooking. It humbles me to be in the same category with Aunt Bernice, Uncle Clayton, Gama, Polly & and of course your Daddy. Love U

  16. I really enjoyed your post, — it brought back some wonderful memories of my Grandmother’s cooking! She passed away over 3 years ago, but I still remember how she made the “best” Biscuits and Gravy, Raisin Creme Pie, and I loved her Beans and Cornbread!

  17. Please do pull all your memories together and create a book. Although I was born and raised in Canada, my childhood contains a similarity to some of your memories. Times were gentler then and I regret that my children and grandchildren’s memories will not be the gentle, warm and safe times we knew. America is no longer free nor does she now belong to the people. We have voted into office people who put love of money and power ahead of love of America and the price we have paid is the loss of our country. These people have Uncle Sam by the throat! Wake up, America, and reclaim our country by voting these scoundrels out of office!